Connection vs. Compliance with Katja Piscitelli (Ep 130)

communication compliance connection iep help language motivation slp special education special education teacher special education teacher resources special needs speech May 11, 2022

There's a lot of talk about compliance during the school day for students who have an IEP.

What should your child be doing? What guidelines do they need to follow? What needs to happen? And is this compliance or connection? All of these things get wrapped up into a bigger emotional conversation. That's exactly why I brought Katja Piscitelli (@bohospeechie) to talk about connection vs. compliance and how we can help understand our students behavior and language through motivation and communication!

Katja found herself at the IEP table as a speech language pathologist, SLP, who is relatively new to the field, but brings a fresh perspective to conversations that have been happening for so long. It's a great way to discover new techniques and creative solutions! So let's jump into the bigger topic...

Connection Vs. Compliance

When we're talking about compliance, we're talking about when a child follows directions without a fight. It's a simple idea, but what happens when the student doesn't comply, or argues, or has a meltdown? We often view compliant students as "good students" and non-compliant students as "bad", but that's such a dangerous mindset!

Behavior, communication, and compliance can be greatly impacted by stress. There might be things happening below the surface that fuel non-compliant behaviors - for instance, what happened earlier that day? Is there internal pain that caused this reaction? We have to look at a child's stressors to truly understand a non-compliant response to requests and directions.

So HOW Do We Look at Stress in a Child's Life?

Here's where communication and connection play a huge role in helping a child be compliant. be sure to listen to Katja's story around the 5:30 minute mark where she found that her student's morning meltdowns weren't about the activity at all, but were an escalated reaction to the background music the teacher played. On the surface, it seemed that the child wasn't prepared to comply with the calendar activity, but through connection time with the student and communication with the parents, the root of the problem could truly be addressed.

Explosive or aggressive behaviors are often a reaction to stress. Yes, we could fix the surface level problem with token boards or behavior rewards, but is that really helping our student succeed? We often overuse these external motivators, like token boards, rather than address the real issues.

So what do we use instead of token boards? Any kind of reward system can definitely help in some situations. Who doesn't like to be rewarded for our hard work?! By looking deeper at intrinsic motivation, we can not only help the student comply with requests, but also help them feel more comfortable and successful in class. Instead, try this in your classroom or at home: incorporate interests into activities or directions where you can. Obviously, this can't be done for every tasks, but including it where you can, can give a student more ownership of their actions.

Listen, these are lifelong skills we're talking about. Think about the things you do to motivate yourself everyday to get work done, and use that to help your child or student find their intrinsic motivations.

Gestalt Language Processing

If you've seen Katja on Instagram (which you totally should!), you know she's all about gestalt language processing. So what is it? Gestalt language processing is another way to develop language than what we traditional think of. If kids traditional start with one word, and then two words phrases, and finally build their longer sentences and phrases, then gestalt language processors do the opposite. They start with longer gestalts, or scripts as they might be called, and then eventually break those down into smaller malleable phrases. These gestalts are often mimicked phrases from songs or shows or common phrases in your household, known as echolalia. But the pieces of the phrases can be broken down to single words and then used to produce their own spontaneous speech.

Keep in mind that echolalia is part of the language learning process, so it shouldn't be diminished or discouraged. Long scripts are these students' way of communicating and we need to use our detective skills to figure out what they're trying to tell us. But even if that's not done, just acknowledging that you hear your student or child and their words have meaning, that can be huge in speech development and confidence.

Bottom line is that we're not just about compliance anymore. It's not just about follow the directions and be a good student; and it's definitely going to take some work with our fellow IEP team members to get on the same page, but it is possible!


Here's a glance at the episode...

[7:40] "External motivators tend to be overused."

[14:04] "As we look into all the strategies that work for students, if we really think about it we're using so many of these strategies naturally as adults - these are lifelong skills!"

[19:31] "It's important to do that detective work of figuring out what your child is trying to say, but even if that's not done, just acknowledging that you hear them and their words have meaning."

Click here to listen!

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Get Connected with Katja Pisctelli, M.S., CCC-SLP:

IG: @bohospeechie

FB: Boho Speechie

Meaningful Speech Course:

Marge Blanc's website with links to research :


Grab the Books Mentioned in the Episode:

Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes

Natural Language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum: The Journey from Echolalia to Self-Generated Language




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